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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Circle of friends keeps us happy, healthy

The Spokesman-Review

It’s great to be rich, thin, good-looking and stunningly smart – but all that good stuff can’t hold a candle to being happy.

What makes us happy – truly happy – is our good friendships. And good friendships also can make us a lot healthier and even help us live longer lives.

According to longevity researchers, there’s a direct link between our number of friends and our health. People with an extensive network of friends and confidants outlive those with the fewest friends by 22 percent. That could translate into 15 more years just for having a circle of good friends.

Not too bad, eh? It’s better than free money, for heaven’s sake. Hats off to those brainy researchers, whose work it took to make us sit up and take notice and to help us realize there is a payoff far beyond simply the enjoyment of having a few true and loyal friends.

Having at least four good friends seems to tip the scale healthwise.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center explored the protective effect of friendships by studying patients with heart disease. Over four years, people in the “isolated” group (those with fewer than four friends) were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease. Four friends seemed to be the magic number.

What good is a sharp brain compared with happiness and good health? And best of all, of course, is having a heart that keeps on beating. That’s where the rubber meets the road, folks.

Investments in our friendships have greater payoffs than we ever imagined.

So in a way, friendship is a lot like money – the more we invest and the better we manage it, the more we get back.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re with friends, you feel happier and more energized? This invigorating state impacts our emotional and physical health in ways we would never have expected.

I wondered: Do I feel better after spending time with a friend? It seems to be true. I looked back at the time I had spent with my best friend yesterday.

We had met for a snack at Borders Books. After lunch, we browsed around the store, fingering and admiring the new crop of hardback books with their interesting titles and irresistibly beautiful jackets.

We share an intense passion for books and reading. So, for us, poking around this store was just as satisfying as if we had ordered those Bavarian berry cream scones for dessert. (That’s a lie, of course.)

As we left the store and went our separate ways, it was with uplifted spirits and happiness that I pursued the rest of my day, despite still hankering for one of those scones.

I know that if I’d gone to lunch and to the bookstore alone, I would not have been so charged. But you can bet I would have had a Bavarian berry cream scone.

Every Sunday, my neighbor and I go on a good walk. This neighbor also is one of my best friends.

Afterwards, we journey to several grocery stores to shop for weekend specials. We always have so many laughs, and I look forward all week to this special time. I call this weekly excursion “Sundays with Margaret,” and my weekly grocery shopping no longer is a chore but an enjoyable outing.

It’s these little things we do with our friends that not only nourish the friendship connection but also nourish our spirit and our health.

It’s easy to let our “busy-ness” get in the way of these vital interludes with friends – but that’s a fatal mistake.

This positive effect of friendship spills into other areas of our health, too. Friendships can protect us from debilitating depression and anxiety. They boost our immune systems and have been proved to give the cardiovascular system a boost. Memory is enhanced, and we sleep better. And, remember, when we sleep better, we look more beautiful (and more handsome, too).

All that, plus getting to live longer – in a healthy mind and body.

Friendship is free, and the payoff is priceless. We need to hang on to our best friends – fiercely – and we should always be ready to make new friends.

New friends are a shot in the arm. They expand our opportunities for pleasurable companionship and broaden our interests.

Where do we look for new friends? Wherever we go, that’s where.

Do it as if your life depends on it – because it does.

RX : For happiness, connect with two or three good friends daily.

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